By Kambiz Assai
Iran’s nuclear activities have been on the sight for many years now. What the enrichment is to serve for Tehran has puzzled many in the West for many reasons. However, looking at the events now, it seems that everything could and should have been looked at and taken very seriously many years ago.
It is too clear that Tehran does not need nuclear energy. Iran is the second-largest crude producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after Saudi Arabia. The country’s Deputy Oil Minister Ahmad Qalebani said that Iran’s oil reserves has reached 155 billion barrels following the recent discovery of new onshore oil and gas fields in southern and western Iran with reserves of 500,000 million oil barrels and five trillion cubic feet gas respectively.
Sounding worried about Iran’s nuclear activities, this is what the former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Olli Heinonen, said in an interview with Spiegel on October 6th, explaining how he felt they were tricked and misled:
“It’s undeniable that Iran’s nuclear program is far more advanced than it was in 2003, when the discovery of the Natanz facility brought it to the IAEA’s attention. At the time, uranium enrichment tests were being carried out in secret on a small scale. But at the end of 2003, the Iranians admitted they were also planning to set up a heavy-water reactor in Arak to generate plutonium.
Today the facts are as follows: The conversion plant in Isfahan has produced 371 tons of uranium hexafluoride. Some 8,000 centrifuges in Natanz are being used to enrich this raw material. In February 2010, Iran began increasing enrichment to 20 percent. That’s a significant step closer to making an atomic bomb because it takes only a few months to turn that into weapons-grade material.”
In September, the head of the United Nations nuclear agency announced plans to publish new information backing up his belief that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead—developments that leaves his organization “increasingly concerned.”
There are two important questions that need to be answered:
One. Why does Tehran not accept to stop nuclear enrichment?
Two. Does Iran have an Achilles’ heel to force it stop its drive to become a nuclear power?
To answer the above questions, we need to look inside Iran.
First: The mullahs are facing a very young population (more than 70% below 30 years of age), who are almost entirely against the regime. The protests in the Iranian streets two years ago, showed the threat facing Tehran. The demonstrations have to date been stopped by brutal crackdown and wide spread torture of those arrested in the prisons, but the wind of changes in the Arab world is certainly not blowing against the regime in Iran.
The mullahs utterly need a way out. Capability to produce nuclear weapons is being seen as a solution to create crisis and survive. Tehran is too weak and is surrounded by too many problems to be able to negotiate stopping nuclear enrichment, no matter how many carrots it is offered.
Second: Tehran has a very hurt able Achilles’ heel that it has to be attentive of.. The weakness, which is well recognized by the mullahs themselves, is their main opposition group, the MEK.
Shackling the MEK is a must for the mullahs as they feel the threat facing them inside country and they experienced it two years ago on the streets of the capital. The opposition must be kept under maximum pressure no matter what and that is the reason why the mullahs lobbies in Europe and the US, have clear-cut outlines to work with. The MEK was put in the FTO list in 1997 when the Clinton administration, keen on placating Tehran’s regime through various “goodwill gestures,” designated the group as a terrorist organization. Since then, the MEK has won every legal challenge it filed, whether in the United States, the United Kingdom, France or the European Union. Eight European courts have reviewed thousands of pages of classified and unclassified materials and have concluded that the MEK is simply not involved in terrorism.
The correct policy towards the mullahs in Iran is to recognize their Achilles’ heel. Tehran’s threat is too real but it does not need to be stopped by a war. The impasse can be opened by unshackling the mullahs’ opposition and delisting the MEK before it is too late.
Kambiz Assai is a scholar of Iranian politics now living in exile and a former political prisoner of the religious dictatorship in Iran. He writes about Iranian current events and human rights issues extensively hoping for a democratic Iran. [email protected]